This is the holiday that has my husband flipping over hamburgers and hot dogs, an annual event. (He grills, but usually prefers a good steak or such elevated fare as jumbo shrimp and alder-smoked salmon.) For me, the essential element of the holiday is fireworks, the more spectacular the better. I like to sit as close to the source as possible so that the bursts blossom right over my head and I can feel the bass thumps in my chest. Do I wax patriotic? No, I’m too much of a historical relativist. After researching my book about what really happened when Columbus “discovered” America, I’m keenly aware of the ambiguities in any such event, the American Revolution included. But overall, I’m glad it happened—and bring on those fireworks!
For me, the 4th of July used to look like this:
These are scanned right out of my family scrapbook (which I abruptly stopped doing about five years ago because it was SO time consuming. My sons will think that one day I just stopped loving them. :)
Yes, the 4th was once about face paint and patio-chalk-flags and excited little boys. I remember one magical fourth, on the evening of which we went to the biggest town park with our blanket and some provisions and waited, with what seemed the entire village, for the fireworks to start. One of my college friends had joined us, the new godmother of my youngest son, and 11-month-old Graham seemed to sense their bond, because he spent the evening crawling on her and occasionally biting her toes.
The fireflies were out, and my older son (the one in the pictures) skipped around and thought everything was SO exciting!
Now they are 16 and almost 13, and seemingly young existentialists. The most exciting thing in life these days is the never-ending array of video games that they have in their collection, and it is indeed hard to pry them away.
But they still love the fireworks, Liz--just like you and every good American. :)
When I was a kid, it was all about the fireworks. But less about big park displays and more about our neighbors getting together with those streetside stands of purchased fireworks: sparklers, Whistling Petes, those whirly things that spun on the ground. We'd pool our resources and have a safe and sane fireworks show all our own.
We can't buy those anymore as they have been outlawed in many California counties so we have to travel to outlying cities to seek out those city park fireworks displays. I like putting together gourmet picnic baskets of wonderful little salads and grilled chicken on skewers, cheeses and fruit. Wine. You also don't get embarrassed about being a little extra patriotic and get the opportunity to just reflect on the past and what brought us to today, appreciating the freedoms we have that even some of the freest democratic countries don't quite enjoy.
I lived in the Philadelphia area for twenty years total, at various times in my life, including elementary school. Yet somehow my suburban Quaker school never offered us a tour of Independence Hall, although I have a dim memory of sitting in a bus and watching the Liberty Bell go by.
When as an adult I worked in Center City, within walking distance of the site, did I ever do the tour thing? No. Maybe I'm a history snob and prefer obscure places to tourist Meccas. It took a visit from out-of-state relatives to force me into the building.
We all probably know the bare bones of the story--representatives of the colonies locked together in a room, the windows closed so no one could eavesdrop on them as they hammered out the Declaration of Independence. One wonders if they were allowed to remove coats (probably wool) and wigs, and roll up their shirtsleeves, to get the job done. Let me tell you, it gets hot in Philadelphia in July!
So when at long last I saw that chamber, I was struck almost viscerally by how small it was. Crammed together, hot, tired, and in equal parts frustrated, exhausted and exhilarated, a small group of men drafted a single document that changed the history of the world. Being in that space made them human for me.
If you're ever in Philadelphia, it's worth the visit.
Postscript: I'm a member of the DAR, which celebrates the role that our Revolutionary War ancestors played in the founding of the country. So far I can list thirteen of mine who participated in some way, and mainly they're in Massachusetts, where I now live. I visit them regularly. Here is one of my ancestors, alongside his brother. The house they were raised in was the inspiration for the Orchard Mystery series.
For me July 4 means the height of the blooming season for the hundreds of daylily plants in my garden -- a glorious sight, prettier than any fireworks display. At least it used to mean that, until the deer in the nearby woods discovered how delicious daylily buds are (they're sweet and tender and are used in some Asian stir-fry recipes). For the past few years we've waged a battle throughout June to protect the precious buds that should burst into gorgeous bloom around the 4th of July. And we've been losing. But this year things are looking up. We've been extra diligent in applying revolting repellent spray, and although we've lost some buds to the deer, the plants have plenty left. Some have already survived to the point of blooming, and others are fattening up, waiting their turn. The countdown begins. What will I find when I walk through the garden on July 4 -- the sad snipped-off stalks that once held flower buds, or a riot of colorful blossoms? Will this be the Independence Day we liberate our garden from the tyranny of the deer?